Leonardus Castro — “Leo” to most everyone — has played basketball most of his 48 years, and he admits he’s not much of a player.
“I’m 6-foot-1, 235 pounds, a strong forward,” he said.
His love of the game and heart for kids led Castro to open the gym of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Farwest Drive in Lakewood every Tuesday night. Young people would come in, join in a quick prayer and start playing.
Castro knew most of them by name. They knew him as Leo.
And when Castro had a heart attack in the gym last week, a handful of those young players were stunned by what they saw — a man lying on the floor, not breathing, eyes rolled back in his head.
Then they saved the Lakewood man’s life.
“You read a lot of negative things about kids,” said his mother, Nellie Leavitt. “But those kids reacted so fast. One ran across the street for help, another called 911 and two others did CPR.”
J Slaughter, an 18-year-old Lakes High School senior, was at the gym with a friend.
“It was my first time there; we were watching a friend trying to dunk between games, and I saw Leo go down,” Slaughter said. “I grabbed my cellphone and ran outside, got the address of the church and reported a stroke or a seizure.”
Slaughter didn’t go back in the gym until paramedics arrived. Inside, players were trying to get Castro’s heart pumping again.
“I’m CPR-certified — I had to do it,” Luis Roque said. “I know I could have done better, but I got down on my knees, saw he was purple and white, and I did it for a couple minutes.
“Jordan Johnson started first, and then he said he couldn’t do it anymore. Then a guy named Shawn did it and then I did,” Roque said. “It seemed like the ambulance took forever. I know in the minutes I was doing CPR, Leo took one breath.”
When paramedics arrived, the boys stood back and watched.
“They were really getting compression on him,” said Roque, another Lakes senior.
Castro, who remembers nothing of that night, was rushed to St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood, then taken to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma. He had four stents surgically implanted.
“They told me he had the arteries of a 70-year-old man,” wife Bobbie said. “He had a genetic predisposition, which we didn’t know. His diet has now changed forever.”
Castro leads an active life; he’s an Xfinity employee who said his job is mostly climbing poles when there’s trouble.
He awakened last week in a hospital with no idea why he was there.
“He kept saying he’d passed out, and I told him, ‘Honey, it was a little more than that. Your heart stopped,’ ” his wife said.
At one point last week, all four of the young men from the gym — Slaughter, Roque, Johnson and Sapa Doiron — stopped by the hospital to visit.
On Monday night, they graduated from Lakes — and Castro was released from the hospital. One of his main concerns is about those four young heroes.
“I owe them my life,” Castro said. “What a terrible thing to have happen. You’re there for some basketball and a guy dies on you. I’m afraid some of them may never come back.”
That’s a possibility.
“I don’t know if I’ll go back,” Slaughter said. “It was pretty emotional that night. It was a terrible thing to see and be part of. I’m glad he’s OK, but man. On the way home that night, I told my friend, ‘I love you.’ ”
Roque said he wasn’t certain he’d return either.
“We were watching Leo die,” he said. “All of us tried to save him, but it was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through. We did the best we could. I’m really happy he’s home, but I don’t know if we’ll be back.”
Castro said he will be.
“I’m going to play basketball again,” he said.
For now, he’s just healing — and more than his arteries need time.
“I’ve got two broken ribs on one side, six on the other,” Castro said. “That’s a small price to pay for having your life saved.”
The young men were more than happy to turn life-saving duties over to the paramedics.
“We did our best, but when they got there, they used the electric shock and then really went hard after the compression. We held the door when they took Leo out.”
“We all went to midcourt and prayed for him,” Roque said.
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638